The first place Victoria Grizzlies began an early-season test on Friday night, hitting the ice for their first of three games in three days in three different cities starting with a tilt in Chilliwack against the Chiefs.
Chilliwack, who defeated the Grizzlies, 3-1 on October 9 in Victoria, proved a stiff test again on Friday as the Grizzlies would need overtime dramatics from captain Cody Van Lierop to take a 4-3 overtime victory.
Victoria (9-2-2-3-2) begin the gruelling weekend tied with the Cowichan Valley Capitals for top spot in the Island Division of the British Columbia Hockey League with 23 points. The hometown Chiefs (10-5-2-0-1) entered Friday just a point back of Wenatchee in the Mainland division with 22 points.
The Grizzlies hit the ice with great jump in the first period, carrying the edge in play for much of the opening frame. The visiting Grizzlies would pepper the Chilliwack net with 21 shots in the first 20 minutes, but Chiefs goaltender Mark Sinclair would hold the home side in the game.
The only Grizzlies skater to solve Sinclair in the first was Keyvan Mokhtari who fired home his eighth goal of the season to open the scoring midway through the period. That was the only puck to elude Sinclair in the first while on the other side of the ice, Matthew Galajda maintained the 1-0 Victoria lead making nine saves.
Victoria’s early offensive barrage was aided by two powerplay opportunities in the first period, though they were 0-2 with the man advantage.
While the first period saw a one-sided attack, the second brought a frenetic pace that allowed the hometown Chiefs back into the contest.
An early equalizer for Chilliwack opened the second period when Jake Smith wired his fifth of the season to tie the game at one just 20 seconds into the middle frame. Just 52 seconds later however, the Grizzlies re-established their lead on Mokhtari’s second tally of the night.
Mokhtari has been playing exceptional hockey of late with five of his nine goals coming in his last two games beginning with a hat trick performance last Saturday against Alberni Valley.
Play was much more balanced in the second period going back and forth, as did the scoring. Just shy of the 12-minute mark, Chilliwack’s Kohen Olischefski netted his seventh of the season, bringing the game back even, 2-2.
Again, Victoria would reclaim the lead for the third time on Cam Thompson’s third goal of the year with inside three minutes remaining in the second period.
The teams went into the second intermission with the Grizzlies ahead 3-2 after a choppy, penalty-filled middle period. Victoria would take four minor penalties in the second while the Chiefs were called for two. Both teams were 1-3 on the powerplay through 40 minutes.
Chilliwack converted on their fourth powerplay chance as the third period opened when Josh Borynec banged home a rebound for his third of the season on an opportunity that came about on a wild bounce on a clearing attempt in the Grizzlies end.
With the game now tied at three, quality chances abounded on both ends as play opened up more than ever, but timely saves and missed opportunity kept the game even.
The Chiefs pressed for the go-ahead goal in the dying moments of the third but to no avail, as the game went to overtime marking the eighth time already this season that the Grizzlies have needed extra time (2-2-3).
Four-on-four play in the first overtime session only helped to open up the pace of play even more with repeated odd-man rushes on both ends of the ice as Galajda and Sinclair kept the game alive.
With the game seemed destined for double overtime, Grizzlies captain Cody Van Lierop took one last rush, walked in to the Chiefs zone and wired the game-winner to the top corner, beating Sinclair and the buzzer with just one second remaining in the first overtime, giving the Grizzlies a 4-3 win.
The goal was Van Lierop’s second of the season and gave Victoria their third overtime win of the season and tenth victory overall.
Final shots in the game were 43-33 in favour of the Grizzlies.
Mokhtari led all skaters with his two goals. Van Lierop (1-1) and Jamie Rome (0-2) matched him with two points apiece.
The win, combined with a 9-0 Cowichan Valley loss to the Powell River Kings on Friday, gives Victoria (10-2-2-3-2) sole possession of first place in the Island Division with 25 points.
The Grizzlies return to the ice for the second of their three-game weekend road swing on Saturday night in Salmon Arm against the Silverbacks.
Victoria’s next home game takes place Friday, November 4 when Alberni Valley returns to the Q Centre. The Vernon Vipers visit the Grizzlies the following night, November 5. Both games begin at 7:00pm.